Saturday, September 20, 2008

Coffee with Crush

I am in Colorado and my neighbor is caring for my dogs, Buddy and Holly, my cat, Niblet, my turtle, Crush, and the many frogs and toads that hop around the house. Knowing she is a great dog lover, I knew I would have no problems convincing my neighbor to walk my dogs, but I was surprised to learn that she also sits outside and has her coffee with Crush. I have shared more than one cup of tea with my aquatic friend and must admit that I love him deeply. He brings me peace, a peace that comes, remarkably, from simply being near him.

There's something very soothing about a turtle. I do not see them as "slow," I see them more as patient, calm explorers. When I watch Crush stretch his neck from his shell and carefully turn from side to side, I can feel my own thoughts calming, slowing down, pausing. Sometimes when I toss his carrots and lettuce and other scraps into the pond, I sit and watch him eat, knowing he is also watching me. He likes to rest with the belly of his shell on hot rocks and when he does so, he stretches out his front and back legs as if he's sunbathing, all the while looking around, soaking it all in.

The dogs and cat don't bother Crush and I think that's because of his size. He looks exactly like a Red-Eared Slider, but he doesn't have the red marks on his head. He is medium size--I've seen some jumbo ones in the local parks--but I think he will grow much larger now that he is in a more natural environment. In spite of his good size, I do worry about some of the predators in the area. Crush is curious and friendly. He shares his waters generously. I had him in a pond with some large Koi for a short period of time and they were all very happy together. He is also friendly with the squirrel couple who often play beneath his tree and drink from his pond. He will swim close, but not too close, and just hover, saying howdy in his way.

Crush likes to be hand-fed, and I don't mean simply tossing his food into the pond. He likes to have people put a piece of food between their fingertips so he can nip it down. He has never once tried to bite me, and he's never nipped my skin when grabbing food. He doesn't completely chomp down. It's more like a gentle grasping with his little snapper. I may have taught him to eat from my fingers, but it's also possible that Crush learned this skill from the school he once called home. I rescued Crush from a small tank in an elementary school classroom. He was having problems with his shell and the teacher was concerned. The problem was quickly corrected when I placed him in a larger tank with proper lighting.

The goal was to take Crush to Texas and release him into the wild, but when I read on the internet that pet shop turtles can spread diseases to wild turtles, I realized Crush would never be a community turtle. I also realized that I had the opportunity to provide him with a happy home of his own, and that's when I started on his pond.

I first built a pond that was two feet deep, about that wide, and four feet long. However, even in the Texas Hill Country the temperatures can drop into the 20s and I knew Crush would need deeper waters where he could snuggle up to fallen leaves in the winter time. So, I built a second pond, four feet deep, round and wide with several steps leading to a fenced walkout. He doesn't spend time on the sandy walkout, though. He prefers to clambor over the rocks and perch on the edge. At first, I was concerned that he would wander away from the pond and planned a second fence to keep him in, but he never walks into the surrounding garden.

My two window frogs join Crush in the pond each night. They all seem to get along very well. I'm not sure if Crush would eat their eggs, but I have a feeling they would lay them in the first pond again when they're ready to do so once more. This all seems very natural to me, that they would be friendly, yet cautious, with the ruler of the pond.

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